– Surface-piercing hardware designed for the Japanese Lunar-A mission, which is facing cancellation, has attracted interest from both
, where similar projects are on the drawing boards.
The Russian space agency, Roskosmos, has approached the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) about using the ballistic probes on its planned Luna-Glob mission, according to Takashi Nakajima, JAXA’s Lunar-A mission manager. Meanwhile, an official with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. of
, said the same hardware is a good fit for the company’s proposed MoonLite mission.
The Lunar-A mission features projectiles designed to separate from a mothership and bury themselves 1 to 3 meters into the Moon’s crust to measure seismic activity. The Luna-Glob mission, penciled in for a 2011 launch, has a similar profile but would send 12 probes into the Moon’s surface, Nakajima said in a Jan. 18 e-mail. This past fall, Roskosmos inquired about the possibility of using four JAXA-designed probes should Lunar-A be terminated, he said.
Meanwhile, Adam Baker, business development executive with
, said his company also is interested in the JAXA hardware for MoonLite. If approved, the MoonLite lunar seismology mission would launch in late 2010 on an Indian rocket.
“There’s been no formal approach one way or another, but it’s a reasonable assumption to say we are interested and it does look like a good fit. We’ve only [done] some initial work … but it would be great if we could gain the benefit of 15 years of all JAXA’s hard work,” Baker said Jan. 17.
In a follow-up e-mail, Baker said MoonLite planners are eager to include international contributions. “We have held informal discussions regarding possible collaboration with the Japanese Lunar-A team and we would certainly welcome their participation,” he said in the e-mail.
‘s Space Activities Commission, the nation’s foremost decision-making body for space programs, will decide by the end of January on the fate of the long-delayed Lunar-A mission, the completion of which will cost money that JAXA says it does not have.
In a Jan. 10 report dubbed “Regarding the Status of the 17th Scientific Satellite (Lunar-A),” JAXA said going through with the mission would require refurbishing or replacing the mothership. The agency also raised the possibility of scrapping the mothership but preserving the projectiles for use on a future Japanese spacecraft or as part of an international mission.
When it was conceived in 1990, the Lunar-A mission consisted of a 540-kilogram mothership and three ballistic probes designed to detach and smash into the lunar crust at 300 meters per second. JAXA’s report comes 10 years after a decision to delay the 15.3 billion yen ($127 million) program due to problems with the projectile design.
This time, the situation is reversed. The issues with the ballistic projectiles appear to have been resolved, and JAXA reduced their number from three to two to save costs. But 10 years of storage have taken their toll on the mothership; it is now considered unusable without extensive repairs and component replacement, according to Tatsuo Oshima, a spokesman for JAXA.
While stressing in a Jan. 17 telephone interview that the decision on Lunar-A remains with the Space Activities Commission, Oshima said JAXA can ill-afford the extra cost of refurbishing or replacing the mothership.
“We haven’t made an estimate of how much it would cost to repair or replace the mothership, but we feel the money would be better spent elsewhere,” Oshima said.
Shinichi Isa, deputy director of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which has oversight of JAXA, said the Lunar-A review is part of a regular cycle of reviews the Space Activities Commission is required to perform and that a final decision on the project is due at the end of January.
In a Jan. 17 interview, Isa conceded Oshima’s point about the difficulty of funding Lunar-A’s refurbishment and said JAXA would have to raid another project’s account to come up with the cash.
“JAXA has so many missions on at the moment. To be honest, choosing to continue the (mothership mission) needs a bunch of money,” Isa said.
Kazuto Suzuki, assistant professor at the
‘s International Political Economy department and an expert on space development in
, said scrapping the Lunar-A mothership may be JAXA’s best chance of flying the surface-penetrating probes. Suzuki said he strongly supported
working with international partners. In
‘s case it would help spur Anglo-Japanese cooperation, which he said has been lacking, and promote
‘s small satellite technology development.
“We don’t know if either of these are done deals, and it seems that everyone knows Lunar-A is going to be scrapped … international cooperation it is a credible way to outsource the technology,” he said in a Jan. 18 telephone interview.
Satoko Kanazawa, another JAXA spokesman, declined to comment on possible cooperation with Surrey.